D.B. Rielly is an American roots music artist with a two-sided approach to his art. On one hand, he is quite tongue-in-cheek (or maybe just “cheeky”) in his approach, and on the other–well, it’s apparent he holds a deep respect for the Americana genre. Both sides of Reilly’s nature are evident on his latest record, Love Potions and Snake Oil, a CD that pledges to be an “instantaneous cure for all afflictions.” (It says so–right on the label.) The question, of course, is this: does the record do what it claims?
Yes. And no. (A two-sided answer–how appropriate of me.)
While the musicianship and songwriting on the record are definitely on target, in all honesty I feel that the record has three distinct shortcomings. First of all, the dual nature of the record itself seems to work against it. At times Reilly’s songs are heartfelt and sincere (“Save All Your Kisses”, “Love Me Today”), and at other times satrical and irreverent (“We’re All Going Straight to Hell”). And the twisted humor in the song “I Got a Girlfriend” borrows a page straight from “Weird” Al Yancovic’s playbook. It seems to be intended as diversity, but instead it feels more like several violent mood swings.
Second, roots music spans several genres, and this record apparently tries to span all of them–from zydeco to blues, and everything in between. Granted, all genres are done well enough, but the overall voice of Love Potions is inconsistent at best. Listening to the album through, Rielly doesn’t stay in a genre long enough even to help the listener get used to it.
Third, as far as the music itself, while it certainly pays homage to the historic roots of American music, it doesn’t break any new ground. It sounds more like the music of yesteryear, not like a record made this year.
These three issues I have with the record all share a common thread: the music is good, but the dual theme doesn’t work. This record feels like it travels all over the place, and doesn’t seem to know what it is, or what it wants to be. It covers plenty of ground, but lacks focus.
Having said that, imho, the album’s strongest suit is actually its bluesy acoustic tracks just beyond the halfway mark. Stark, raw and honest, these tracks represent the best of D.B. Rielly. (I’ve included these as a sample below.) If the rest of the record sounded like this, it would be a classic.
If Love Potions and Snake Oil is inconsistent as a stand-alone record, at the very least it demonstrates Rielly’s range and talent–a sample of what he’s capable of. And despite its shortcomings, the one message that comes through clearly on the record is his love for roots music. It will be interesting to see where Rielly’s journey takes him next.